(Noel V. Baebler/Shutterstock)

Feeling nostalgic? If so, it might be time to resurrect those old home movies. Thanks to modern technology, it’s easy to have them transferred to CD/DVD and digital files on a USB flash drive or in the cloud. 

The golden age of home movies arrived after World War II, a time when more and more families could afford to purchase the equipment necessary to enjoy this form of entertainment. By and large, they included holidays, birthday parties, vacations, Halloween costumes, graduations, and miscellaneous activities that our parents deemed important enough to record on film.

This form of entertainment can retrieve old or forgotten memories. Personally, I have almost no mental image of interacting with my two youngest siblings. Yet on film, I am elated to see myself helping my sister learn how to walk and watching the utter delight on my brother’s face as I squirt water on him with a garden hose.

Sometimes, watching these movies will bring back bittersweet memories. My father filmed a few precious seconds of Anna, who worked in our house as I was growing up. We loved her. It was the summer of 1960 when she went with us on vacation to help lighten my mother’s load. Anna was like family, but not to the restaurant where we stopped for lunch on the way home and they wouldn’t let us in because she was “colored.”

Not surprisingly, for the entire 4+ hours of film, my mother looks like the model housewife in those 50s magazine print ads. Even in her bathrobe on Christmas morning, after having been up half the night helping my father transform our living room into a Santa fantasy, she looks beautiful with not a hair out of place.  

However, underneath the perfection, there is discord. The oldest, my brother, appears to look less enthusiastic and more serious as his teen years wear on. One scene shows me yanking my hand away from my mother’s as we walked along the beach. In another, I watch myself emerging from the house with an awful scowl on my face, presumably after having had an argument with her. The middle child, my sister, holds steadfast in looking happy most of the time. 

Truthfully, I could have done with less filming of my father’s ’47 Buick Roadmaster convertible, my older brother’s endless marching at Staunton Military Academy, and the roses growing on the side of our home. What I really wanted was more footage of our dogs, my great-uncle’s perfect likeness of Ernest Hemingway and, of course, my dashing father who is rarely seen because he was taking the movies.

This treasure-trove of our memories spanned two decades, from 1949 to 1969, with some of the footage being choppy and either underexposed or overexposed. And because there was no sound before Kodak introduced Ektasound in 1973, they were silent. In the mid-70s, a more practical and convenient home video design came with videotape, with videocassettes being easier to handle than film reels, which started a shift away from film in the home.

Even though these home movies are both heartwarming and sadness-inducing, I am indebted to my parents for leaving their five children with some “reel” life memories growing up.

Kater can be reached at [email protected].

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